The Minnesota Vikings have been hot over the past three weeks. After starting the season 1-4, Minnesota reeled off three straight victories, and it appeared the Vikings were moving in the right direction. However, Sunday’s result might have you questioning that.
With the struggling Cowboys in town, Minnesota had a chance to get to .500, but trailing 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, Cowboys QB Andy Dalton threw a two-yard touchdown pass to TE Dalton Schultz, and Dallas(3-7) would go onto defeat Minnesota(4-6) 31-28.
“I don’t think we played well enough to win today,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. “We had our opportunities, made too many mistakes. Had three fumbles in the first half, lost two. We had too many penalties. We weren’t good in the red zone on defense today. Obviously we can’t get the fourth-down play to win the game. We have to get back to work. We had a good week of practice but just didn’t play well enough; I don’t think.”
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, called the loss “heartbreaking.”
“Yeah, just a heartbreaking loss today,” Cousins said. “It was hard-fought, it was back and forth. It’s one of those games, and so many NFL games are like this, but one or two plays makes the difference in the end. You know that going in, and you feel that during the game, but we just didn’t come out on the right side of enough of those plays to win the game, obviously. Still, a lot of football to be played, but we have to bounce back quickly and get back on track. There are positives to point to, but ultimately when you don’t win, you leave the stadium feeling sick to your stomach.”
This is a game the Vikings had to win. If they get by Dallas, Minnesota would have been two games behind the Packers for the top spot in the NFC North after Green Bay fell to the Colts on Sunday.
Minnesota will be kicking themselves after this disappointing loss. There is still a decent amount of football left for the Vikings, but a loss like this is unacceptable for a team looking to make a run at the playoffs.
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers continued their winning ways by defeating the Jaguars(1-9) 27-3. The Steelers forced Jaguars rookie QB Jake Luton to throw four interceptions, and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns as the Steelers moved to an NFL best 10-0.
For Roethlisberger, it’s not about 16-0; it’s about winning a Super Bowl at the end of the season.
“[We] just focus on one week at a time, and that’s what this team’s done, and I said this week, we’re not chasing perfection in terms of 16-0,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re chasing Lombardi’s, so that’s the most important thing for us is we just have to focus on this week and playing our best one week at a time.”
As this team continues to win, obviously, the talk will be centered around the possibility of going undefeated, but according to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the pressure for Pittsburgh to win is no different than any other team in football.
“There is pressure in our business,” Tomlin said. “I don’t know if you call it more pressure or not. I know regardless of the record, we would be committed to winning this game that we are walking into play on Thursday. Again, I think that is more some outside fodder. That is storylines, if you will, and gives you guys something to talk about during the week. We respect our process. We are going to prepare and step into the stadiums we play. There is urgency to that. There is pressure associated with that. All of the above. That is the same regardless of the record. I am sure people who are not perfect feel pressure to perform week in and week out.”
On Thursday, the Steelers host its division rival the Baltimore Ravens, who Steelers CB Minkah Fitzpatrick believes will give Pittsburgh their best effort.
“I think Ben [Roethlisberger] said it before, we’re not worried about 16-0, we’re worried about 1-0,” he said. “We have a great team in Baltimore on Thursday, and they’re looking to knock us off. We already beat them one time, and I think they’re going to give us their A++ game, so we’ve got to go out there and play 1-0. When you start thinking too much about the future, you stop preparing the way you’re supposed to be preparing, doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Big Ben is right. 16-0 don’t mean a thing if they don’t get the ring; therefore, going undefeated is nice, but winning a Super Bowl is better.
Coming into the 2020 NFL Draft, many wanted the Philadelphia Eagles to select Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb in the first round, but he went 17th overall to the Cowboys. After Lamb was off the board, the fanbase clamored for Justin Jefferson out of LSU. However, Philadelphia passed on Jefferson and selected TCU’s Jalen Reagor with the 21st overall pick.
While Lamb and Jefferson are playing well for their respective teams, The 21-year-old Reagor has gotten off to a slow start. Reagor, who missed five games due to a thumb injury, returned in Week 8 against the Cowboys. In four games, Reagor has 12 receptions for 159 yards and one touchdown.
On Wednesday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson gave his thoughts on Reagor at this stage of the season.
“Well, listen, he’s missed a lot of football, so there hasn’t been a lot of production,” Pederson said. “Now, would I like to get him the ball more? Yeah, I would. We’d like to get him more touches if we can. We know there’s one football, and we got some explosive guys too, so it’s hard to just say, ‘Hey, I want to go in and get him ‘X’ amount of touches’. It’s also how the defense plays, and look, we play so much fast, tempo offense that the ball can go anywhere. Our tempo offense is not about scheming one guy. It’s about playing fast and executing our stuff. But moving forward, yeah, I would like to get him some more touches if I can.”
It’s not helping that Jefferson is balling for Minnesota. He has four one-hundred yard receiving games and leads all rookies with 762 receiving yards. Every player develops differently, and at this point, maybe Philadelphia made the wrong decision by passing on Jefferson. However, it’s way too early and too much football to be played to call Reagor a disappointment, so we have to let it play out.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II was named FedEx Ground Player of the Week for Week 10, the NFL announced on Wednesday.
Against the Carolina Panthers, Jones rushed 23 times for 192 yards (8.35 avg.), including a 98-yard touchdown. His 192 yards rushing stand as the third-most in a single game by a player this season and the fifth-most in a single game in Buccaneers history. He also became one of just four players in NFL history to record a rush of 98-or-more yards, joining Derrick Henry (2018), Ahman Green (2003) and Tony Dorsett (1983). In addition, Jones’ 8.35 yards per rushing attempt are the third highest in a single game this season by any player with at least 20 rushing attempts.
Through Week 10, Jones ranks second in the NFL with his 5.1 rushing yards per attempt, among players with at least 100 rushes. He also ranks third in rushing yards (730), third in rush yards after contact (462) and fifth in scrimmage yards (854).
The Minnesota Vikings(4-5) may have finally hit their stride. Three straight division opponents and three consecutive wins for the Vikings, including last night’s 19-13 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field.
Before last night’s game, Vikings QB Kirk Cousins was 0-9 on Monday Night Football. However, the nine-year veteran was 25-36 for 292 yards and two touchdowns against Chicago, and for Cousins, it’s all about doing his part.
“You know, for me, it’s all about playing well and doing my part,” Cousins said after the game. “I’ve played long enough to know there is not a lot you can control as a quarterback. The ball is in your hands, but so many things are out of your control. So you just do the best you can, play the best you can, and that’s where my focus always is. When I leave a game and don’t feel like I played my best, that’s where I get frustrated. Then there are games where you may lose, but you felt like you gave a great effort and played at a high level. You always try to self-evaluate and be critical, but look at it with a trained eye.”
Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who had eight catches for 135 yards on Monday night and tied Randy Moss for the most 100-yard receiving games by a Vikings rookie with four, believes Minnesota is playing with more energy.
“Not having fans in the stadium, we were lacking a lot of energy the first couple of weeks,” Jefferson said. “We found that energy: we found that swagger that we’ve been having. We came out ready to play football. The last three weeks that we’ve been doing, and we’re looking to continue to do it. “
For the Vikings, it’s about getting back into the playoff race, and after starting 1-5 not many thought the playoffs were a possibility. According to their head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are fighting hard.
“You know, they just keep fighting,” Zimmer said. “That’s all we do. We come in there and practice every day. These guys, before the game, we weren’t tight. I could tell in the locker room they weren’t tight. They seemed to go out and practice really hard. They seemed to respond to the — when we are practicing and trying to — one of the things we’ve been emphasizing a lot for the last few weeks is not allowing completions at practice defensively, and I think maybe that’s starting to show up the competition part. It’s three games. We’re fighting our way back into this thing. Hopefully. Still got a lot of football left to play.”
Minnesota appears to be the team that many thought would be at the beginning of the season. Now, it’s time to continue to build on these three victories and make that push for the playoffs.
The Giants’ three NFC East rivals will play this weekend while they take a break on their bye. No matter what Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas do in their games, the Giants will be in the division race when they begin their six-week stretch run on Nov. 29 against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Joe Judge said today the best way for his players to take care of business in the division race is to ignore it and focus instead on their game-day performances.
“The importance needs to be improving as a team,” Judge said. “All that other stuff will take care of itself. Cincinnati is a good team. We have to get ready and go ahead and improve ourselves internally. Turn the page and move on to Cincinnati and get ready for a tough game out there. We have a tough stretch of games coming up. We can’t go ahead and start looking at rankings and division races and all that type of stuff. We just have to focus on getting better each week. That’s what will ultimately help us in the long run.”
Judge’s players might not so easily dismiss the competition to win the division. The possibility of participating in the playoffs has been an incentive for generations of players. Judge, who was an assistant coach at postseason perennial New England for eight seasons, perfectly understands that.
“One of my core beliefs is, motivation, to me, is an individual thing,” Judge said. “As long as you’re working for something and it collectively raises the team, that’s a positive thing. It’s professional football, I don’t care if a guy is working for a paycheck or a guy is working for a championship. If both guys come out and they are giving their best every day, that’s going to make the team better. Whatever motivates these guys, that’s great. My job as the head coach is to make sure they understand the big picture goal. Right now to me, that’s improving on a daily basis and getting to be the best football team we can be at the end of the season. All that other stuff takes care of itself.”
The Giants have shown improvement in the last two weeks, winning consecutive games under Judge for the first time with victories against division rivals Washington and Philadelphia. Yesterday, they broke an eight-game losing streak to the Eagles with a 27-17 victory in MetLife Stadium. The Giants received significant contributions from all three units; the offense gained a season-high 382 yards and scored three touchdowns, the defense held Philly without a successful third-down conversion in nine attempts; and punter Riley Dixon dropped all four of his kicks inside the 20-yard line while posting a net average of 53.3 yards, a career high for a game in which he punted more than once.
Judge is pleased but not close to satisfied.
“I don’t think we ever want to look at something and say, ‘Okay, we’ve gotten to the point we want to be at,’” Judge said. “There’s a lot of improvement we want to keep making. There are a lot of things that we want to clean up. I would say this though. On a weekly basis, I’ve seen a lot of improvement from our team. To me, it’s most evident when you turn the tape on. Look, there are several plays from yesterday that really encapsulate what I want our players to show everyone that watches that tape, and it’s important they look at it. Whether it’s Wayne’s (Gallman) touchdown on the fourth and one where we drove everyone into the end zone and finished the blocks, or Wayne going over the top with good ball security. Whether it’s converting some tough, get back on track situations, defense getting off the field when they have to, special teams covering kicks and establishing field position. There were a lot of positive things that to me, the effort, the urgency.
“One of the things that we’ve emphasized as a team to be honest with you that showed up yesterday that I was very proud of is you see when our players score, everyone running into the end zone celebrating with them. That’s important to me. It’s not a hot dog thing, but we don’t really want individualistic celebrations. We want the team to celebrate. It’s not about one guy getting into the end zone. It’s what did the line do to block to get you down there? What previous plays are you celebrating? It could be a receiver having a touchdown catch. Alright, well the running back should go down and celebrate because he had runs previous in the series that helped get us down there. The offensive line is a part of every play. The quarterback is obviously a big part of every play. We want the team celebrating together and acknowledging that it takes all 11 on the field every time to be successful. It takes everyone on the sideline as well, to be part of it, to be collectively successful.”
At his introductory news conference on Jan. 9, Judge said, “We’re going to put a product on the field that the people of this city and region are going to be proud of, because this team will represent this area.” He believes the team advances closer to that ideal each week.
“You talk about our team and one word I use all the time is resilient,” Judge said. “When I think about people in this area, blue collar people who work hard every day. It’s obviously a very competitive area to be in. That’s what you have to be up here. We want our guys to be successful on the field, but it matters to us how we’re successful. We want to play with the right attitude. We want to play a tough brand of football. We want to run the ball, stop the run, cover kicks. We want to go out there and be able to play in tough elements and be successful. We’re not going to be a team that makes excuses or comes back and says we had them, but this happened instead. That’s not the way we’re made up, that’s not what we’re going to do. I think we’re getting closer to putting a product on the field that hopefully people can see themselves in. That people are proud to put on those blue caps or t-shirts on Mondays and go to work and celebrate that they root for the Giants. That’s something that’s important to us here. We want this team to be about the area. Not just about the guys in the building.”
Leonard Williams has become one of the Giants most productive players this season and he said it’s all part of the process.
The sixth-year defensive lineman leads the team with 5.0 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. The sack total is 10 times greater than the half-sack he had in the entire 2019 season and just 2.0 sacks shy of the career-high total he registered as a pro sophomore with the Jets in 2016. Williams has been credited with 32 tackles (16 solo).
“I think this guy has done a really good job with everything we’ve asked him to do,” coach Joe Judge said. “He’s playing good, fundamental technique and good, sound execution within the schemes. He’s using his hands very well to get off blocks, he plays with a high motor. He’s really using his pass rush moves and his counters off it to get him to the ball. Leonard’s a guy that obviously we knew had a tremendous amount of potential. He has a great attitude. This guy comes to work every day with his hair on fire, really into his football. The team loves being around him, he brings a lot of energy to the building. He’s fun to coach. I think this guy has really helped our team just on all avenues, but for his own specific game, I don’t see any area of his game that hasn’t been improved this year. I think (defense line coach Sean) Spence(r) has done a phenomenal job working with him.”
Leonard credits Judge, Spencer and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham for helping him take a take a step forward – literally and figuratively – this season.
Williams is aware of public perceptions that he hadn’t made enough plays to justify the Jets selecting him with the sixth overall draft choice in the 2015 NFL Draft. At times, that prompted him to try to do too much to raise him numbers. When Spencer joined the staff this season after 20 seasons as a collegiate coach, he believed the Williams needed a change of perspective to maximize his skills.
“The whole thing with Leonard is he’s tremendously talented individual,” Spencer said. “Myself and him and coach Graham and coach Judge have really just concentrated on him focusing on the process and not the results. I think sometimes when you’re results driven, you go outside your work and you start to press. And when you start to press, you’re not going to get the results you want. Focusing on the detail of how do you get the sack – low pad level playing with your hands, playing with extension. Those are the things we’ve tried to work on with him to get him to where he wants to be and where we want him to be.”
Williams became more productive doing what he’s asked to do and not what he thought he had to do.
“There have been times where if I heard something in the media, as much as you try not to pay attention to that stuff, it’s clearly out there,” Williams said. “I started playing out of my game a little bit, pressing to make the big play or make a sack or a flash play like that. I would just get out of my progression. Whereas Coach Spence said if you just play every down hard and you go through your progression and you read your keys and you just play every down, then the big plays will come to you, basically. You’re not out there reaching or searching for a big play. The big play will just come by doing your process.”
Williams has had a sack in five of the Giants’ nine games this season. After tackling Tom Brady and Alex Smith for eight and seven-yard losses the last two weeks, he hopes to run his sack streak to three consecutive games when the Giants host the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in MetLife Stadium.
The irony to Williams is that he believes he’s always been a consistently productive player. But since his sack numbers were not as large as fans and the media apparently expected them to be, he didn’t receive acknowledgement from his contributions.
“I’ve had this same game in my style of play since I’ve been in the league,” Williams said. “It’s just now that the sack number itself, that stat is on the paper, that’s all people see. They think that all of a sudden, I’m playing way better than I have been before. I think I have been still playing well in the past. It’s just like fans don’t see those plays that you make that just don’t count toward a sack.
“Not too much has changed from my game in general, honestly. I feel like I was still making those same plays in the run game. I think the difference is closing that gap between a quarterback hit and a sack at times. That just goes from Pat Graham and Spencer staying on me about being consistent and just trusting myself basically. Just trusting myself more and that confidence growing in myself, which has helped me play harder and faster.”
So did a week he spent in Atlanta last spring with former defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who won three Super Bowls and was selected to seven Pro Bowls in a 12-year career with the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders.
“He introduced me to his family and basically kind of took me under his wing, talked some football,” Williams said. “We watched a little bit of film together. Then we worked out a few days together. He was teaching me mindsets, because he was like, ‘Now that you’re in the league, a lot of people have the body types to be successful. But you have to apply the mindset with the body to make it work.’ He was just teaching me mental game stuff.”
Like the advice he received from Spencer, Williams has taken the lessons from Seymour and applied them on the field, with impressive success.
“I think just knowing that he’s watching and knowing that he’s a mentor in the back of my mind kind of also plays an effect,” Williams said. “I feel like every snap I’m playing, I’m like ‘Oh, Richard’s watching.’ I feel like that’s kind of helped me a little, honestly. He’s reached out to me after games and vice-versa. If I feel like I have a question or something I need to think about, I’ll reach out to him. It’s a cool relationship.”
Williams is pleased he’s made more constant and conspicuous contributions this season but he’s hardly satisfied. The Giants have seven remaining games and Williams intends to be a force in every one of them.
“I would say that this has been one of my more productive years, but we have another game coming up,” he said. “We still have almost half a season left after the bye week. I’m focused on trying to finish and not be satisfied with where I’m at now.”
It’s been a long first half of the season for Jacksonville Jaguars, and after defeating the Colts in Week 1, Jacksonville(1-7) has lost seven in a row. Now, they have to go on the road to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers(6-2), which won’t be easy.
In eight games, Rodgers has thrown 24 touchdowns(third-best in the league) and only two interceptions. Rodgers also has the best QBR(87.6) in football.
“He’s as advertised,” Jaguars S Jarrod Wilson said on Thursday. “He’s just a really big arm. He can make every single throw on the football field, just [has] a big arm. I only played him that once. That was actually my first game in the league, so definitely remember him; just [has] a big arm. I’ve been watching film on him all week, and he definitely throws it up there and gives his receivers opportunities to make plays, so just his arm…
“I think it’s his experience too. To have an arm like that, it’s kind of like arm talent is key, but he’s just experienced now. [I] think he’s in over year 13, 14, I’m not sure, so he’s seen everything. There’s not anything that’s going to go out there and surprise him, so it’s really just kind of doing what you have to do, being in your right spot to make the plays, and they’ll come. I know he trusts his arm, and he can make every throw, and I just know his experience is what usually takes over for him.”
While Rodgers is not turning the football over much in 2020, Jaguars LB Joe Schobert, a Packers fan as a child, believes any player can make mistakes, including Rodgers.
“Growing up as a Packer fan, I was spoiled with Brett Favre, transitioned to Aaron Rodgers for my whole childhood watching them play,” Schobert said on Thursday. “He’s just done a lot of great things in Green Bay. He’s been MVP of the league multiple times, probably has a case for multiple more.
“As you get into the NFL and you understand how hard the game is and how fast and how good defenses are and defensive backs are, [it] makes you appreciate it a little bit more that he’s still doing it at such a high level when he was doing it for a long time since I was in third, fourth grade. But at the same time, you’re up here, and you see things on film, you realize he’s a person. He’s made mistakes. He doesn’t make as many mistakes as some other people, but he’s still a person, can still be affected by pressure, throw some balls that are up for grabs. So, we just have to be ready to take advantage of it because he will give an opportunity. He’s a human just like the rest of us.”
At times, it appears Rodgers is not human on the football field, but in the end, Schobert is right. If the Jaguars can find a way to make Rodgers uncomfortable, maybe mistakes will happen. However, all those things are easier said than done.